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Spread fortified with vitamins and minerals induces catch-up growth and eradicates severe anemia in stunted refugee children aged 3–6 y

Background: Multiple micronutrient deficiencies are often the basic causative factor in stunting and anemia, 2 conditions that affect entire generations of children in deprived populations. No generally accepted recommendations for micronutrient intakes for recovery from stunting are available.

Objective: The objective was to assess the effect of a highly nutrient-dense spread fortified with vitamins and minerals, with or without antiparasitic metronidazole results, in correcting retarded linear growth and reducing anemia in stunted children.

Design: Saharawi refugee children (n = 374) aged 3–6 y with initial height-for-age z scores <–2 were assigned to 1 of 5 groups: fortified spread (FS), fortified spread plus metronidazole (FS+M), unfortified spread (US), unfortified spread plus metronidazole (US+M), or control. Supervised supplementation was given daily for 6 mo. Weight, height, knee-heel length, hematologic indexes, parasitic infections, and morbidity were assessed at 0, 3, and 6 mo.

Results: Linear growth of children fed FS was 30% faster at 3 mo than in US and control groups, after which height-for-age z scores increased only slightly in the FS group and remained unchanged in the other groups. No additional benefits from metronidazole were observed. Increase in hemoglobin concentrations in the FS group at 6 mo was twofold that in the US and control groups (37 ± 40, 19 ± 15, and 16 ± 17 g/L, respectively; P < 0.0001), and anemia was reduced by nearly 90%.

Conclusions: FS, and not US, induces catch-up growth in stunted children whose diets are poor in micronutrients. Our trial provides support for delivering multiple micronutrients to reverse stunting and reduce anemia in children up to age 6 y.